Todd has made it into the Top 10 and voting for that category has ended. We’ll know the results soon…I’ll post them just as soon as they come out.

The Dive Locker has just became a dealer of Go Pro Cameras, the latest and greatest in HD Sports Video equipment.

We have a full line of Cameras and accessories in stock and as you know…our prices can’t be beat! Stop in and check them out, they are the greatest thing in underwater video equipment to come along!

Local diver spears lionfish; biologists say they’re here to stay

2011-08-30 07:48:42

DESTIN – Jeff Petresky and his wife, Heather, were about to head for the surface after diving on a reef south of the Destin East Pass on Sunday when Heather spotted something weird.

“She was waving her flashlight at me, then down on the reef,” Jeff said. “I swam over and saw what she was shining her flashlight on.”

It was an alien invader – a lionfish.

So Jeff did what biologists hope qualified divers will do: He stuck his spear into the ledge where the fish was hiding and skewered it.

•Report a lionfish. »

•USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species map. »

“It’s still sitting in a Zip-Loc bag in my fridge,” said Jeff, who lives in Shalimar. “I reported it. I’m just hanging on to it to see if anybody wants it.”

Trust us, nobody wants it – at least not out of the Zip-Loc bag. The lionfish is native to the Pacific and Indian oceans but scientists believe it was released into Florida waters a few years ago by aquarium owners and breeders.

Since then the fish has spread to Caribbean and American waters, traveling as far north as Long Island.

Martha Bademan, a biologist with the Division of Marine Fisheries, says it wasn’t seen in Northwest Florida waters until a year or two ago.

“Just in the last two years sightings have increased all over Florida,” said Bademan, who added the fish are here to stay.

“We might be able to keep some localized populations in check, but they’re still going to be there. They’re very capable of dispersing.”

What’s so bad about the lionfish? Biologist say they eat and outcompete native species.

An Oregon State University study conducted in the Caribbean a few years ago found that lionfish reduced the populations of juvenile native fish by as much as 80 percent in a short period of time.

“These fish are having some effect on the ecosystem,” said Pam Schofield with the U.S. Geological Survey. “They may be competing with native snappers and groupers. We need to do some really good scientific studies” on the issue of fish populations and how they’re affected by lionfish.

Worse, they can deliver a nasty sting via spines in their fins. Jenny Tinnell, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said they should be handled with extreme care.

“If they (divers) have a (fishing) license, we do encourage them to take them,” she said of the fish. “But be careful.”

If all that weren’t bad enough, Bademan says there’s a chance swimmers might have to deal with them. “In Southeast Florida they’re seeing them in intercoastal waters.”

Can there be an upside? If properly cooked they’re said to be tasty. But Jeff Petresky said the fish he speared didn’t have enough meat on it to be worth the bother.

“They’re about the size of a pinfish. They look big but the actual fish itself is not that big.”

So this small, tough, venomous glutton of a fish is in Northwest Florida waters. What to do now?

If you’re qualified, spear them. If not, report them to the USGS.

And keep your eyes peeled. As Bademan warned, “I don’t think they’re ever going to go away.”

© Copyright 2011 Freedom Communications. All Rights Reserved.

FELICIA KITZMILLER / News Herald Writer
PANAMA CITY — Millions have enjoyed the sugar sand beaches and clear waters of the Emerald Coast, but far fewer have seen the attractions that wait off the coast, below the surface of the inviting waters.

The Panhandle is the No. 2 most popular drive-to recreational diving location in the country, only behind the Florida Keys, dive instructor and enthusiast Danny Grizzard said. The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s website lists more than a dozen popular dive locations including shipwrecks, bridge remnants, sunken Army tanks, aircrafts and more than 50 artificial reefs teeming with marine life.

In the months following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster that devastated the economy of the Florida Panhandle, Roger Smith, an archeologist with the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, said he found himself contemplating ways to help boost tourism in the struggling region.

Having recently completed two successful public education and interpretation projects related to diving – a collection, or trail, of underwater archeological preserve wrecks from the Keys to Pensacola, and another trail of the very popular fleet of sunken Spanish galleons in South Florida – Smith decided to stick to what he knows and honed in on the region’s already successful diving industry.

After contacting friends in the region, an idea has begun to take shape for an interactive map and trail of Panhandle shipwrecks that will hopefully pique the public’s interest and help bring people back to the Panhandle.

“This would present your classic shipwreck, because when people go diving, that’s what they want to see,” said Gizzard, who is helping to organize local dive shops to assist in the effort.

The trail will likely consist of about a dozen shipwrecks spread from Mexico Beach to Pensacola. He and his team are currently meeting with people in the dive community to take suggestions for sites and put together a list. Some of Panama City’s attractions in consideration for the trail include the SS Tarpon, a steamer used in the Spanish American War to bring troops and supplies to Cuba; the Black Bart, the Grey Ghost, and the Red Sea, all tug boats; and the Chippewa, a coastal freighter.

“The history of each one of these sites is very interesting,” Smith said.

The trail will be designed to accommodate divers with different levels of experience and will have ships at varying depths, Grizzard said.

The trail will be branded as a cohesive unit and “passports,” similar to those produced by the National Parks Service, will be produced to encourage people to visit each of the dive sites and check them off on their passport. Brochures and an interactive website map that can be linked to by dive shops and tourism websites will hopefully spread the word about the trail and what it has to offer, Smith said.

“When people think about coming to the Panhandle they can see that there’s a shipwreck trail and hopefully it’ll keep them there a day or two longer,” he said.

So far, the response to the project has been very positive and energetic, Smith said. He wants the project to be community based and is looking for people who have or are interested in shooting underwater video and photos of the wrecks for the project. Such contributions will enhance the quality of the marketing of the trail, and will speed the project along. Smith said he wants to have the trail and its supporting materials completed by spring 2012.

Though he is not involved in commercial diving anymore, Grizzard said he has owned and operated dive shops and dive charters and he knows almost all of the local dive leaders and he is excited about the potential this project holds for Panama City and the entire region.

“I know how tough last year was, and not just on the dive shops. I really think tourism affects us all,” he said.

Though the project is geared toward tourists, Smith said he thinks it will appeal to more than a few locals as well.

“If you live in Florida, you really need to learn how to dive because there’s so much under the water and it’s quiet and it’s peaceful and it’s beautiful,” he said.

People interested in helping with the project can contact Smith by email at rsmith@dos.state.fl.us

Many locals feel that fall is the best time of year in the Florida Panhandle. Now they have a little more proof that they’re right. National Geographic’s website this week listed the Emerald Coast as one of its Top 10 fall travel destinations.

 Autumn along northwestern Florida’s 24-mile-long Emerald Coast brings fewer tourists and lower, “value season” rates to the wide, sugar-white beaches.

 You can’t ask for better weather. The water is never prettier than it is in the fall and it’s a great destination. Our weather starts turning perfect right there about the first of October. The summer-worthy temperatures (highs in the 80s, lows in the 60s) are ideal for swimming in clear, emerald-green Gulf of Mexico waters or for golfing the more than 1,080 manicured championship holes.

We weren’t going to say anything, afraid that whatever we said might be interpreted as being  “smart a..”  but, we have had a lot of calls asking if the Dive Boat turned over this past weekend was one of ours…. it wasn’t us!  The capsized boat was the Red Menace owned by Panama City Dive Charters. Both of our boats are still floating and running great!

We are sorry about their misfortune, but we’re very glad that all the divers that were dumped in the water were recovered safe and sound.

Photo from WJHG.

This summer has started out with a bang, as far as training goes. Todd’s equipment has been wet for a month straight! He’s introduced over 60 new divers to our sport in the past couple of weeks alone! Dave and Brandon have also been staying busy, but there is always room for more, so come on down…now’s the time to try something new and exciting or to take your diving to the next level.
Congratulations to all our new students and welcome aboard, we hope you enjoy scuba diving for many, many years to come.

The Dive Locker was recently honored with the Henderson Sport Group “Outstanding Dealer Award for 2010”.
In the presentation, Joseph Polak, VP Sales and Marketing for HendersonUSA, said, “This award was not based solely on sales volume but on all of the following criteria. Brand Loyalty, Product availability, Product merchandising and store appearance, Product knowledge and training, and Exceptional Customer Service.”

The world is catching on to what we’ve always known.

AOL TRAVEL NAMES PANAMA CITY BEACH ONE OF THE “TOP TEN BUDGET DESTINATIONS FOR 2011” Panama City Beach, FL., January 14, 2010 –

Recently heralded as one of five top value destinations for winter travel by CNN.com, Panama City Beach has now made the list of AOL Travel’s “Top Ten Budget Destinations for 2011.”

The article emphasized affordable accommodations and oil-free beaches, as well as mentioned two major events which occurred in 2010: the opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and a news-worthy visit from the Obama family.

“We are thrilled to add this recognition to Panama City Beach’s list of accolades,” states Dan Rowe, President/CEO of Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “With the wide spectrum of accommodations, dining and entertainment options offered here, we are proud that our REAL.FUN.BEACH. destination is considered an affordable hot spot for 2011.”

Panama City Beach was in good company, with domestic and international destinations like Montreal, Cancun and Washington, D.C. also making the cut for AOL Travel’s list, which can be viewed in its entirety here

Dive Locker makes Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the best dive operations! According to Scuba Diving Magazine Dive Locker is listed in the 2011 Readers Choice Top 100.